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"The President's Own"


A History of the United States Marine Band by Col. John R. Bourgeois (Ret)

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On 19 November 1863, the band, still under the direction of Francis Scala, had accompanied Lincoln to Gettysburg for the dedication of the National Cemetery where he delivered his immortal Gettysburg Address. The train manifest roster of band personnel on that day includes the name Antonio Sousa, trombonist, the father of John Philip Sousa.

During the Civil War years, the influence of military music on the young Washingtonian, John Philip Sousa, was so compelling that later he wrote in his autobiography, Marching Along, "I loved all of them (the bands) good and bad alike." When he was tempted to run away and join a circus band, the plot was discovered by his father, Antonio, who brought his thirteen-year-old son to Marine Commandant Jacob Zeilin. And on Tuesday, 9 June 1868 John Philip Sousa was enlisted as a boy or apprentice, in the Marine Band for the "tentative period of seven years, five months, and twenty-seven days."

After two enlistments lasting nearly seven years, followed by a brief period as a conductor of theater orchestras, and then as a member of the violin section of Jacques Offenbach's American Centennial tour orchestra, John Philip Sousa was reenlisted as the seventeenth leader of the Marine Band on 1 October l880.

Sousa led the Marine Band from 1880 to 1892 and during those years he elevated it to a prominence it had not known before. He proudly wrote, "the Marine Band is the national band...as great among bands as America is among nations." It was under Sousa's leadership that the band participated in the dedication of the Statue of Liberty on 4 July 1886.

Sousa was followed by Francesco Fanciulli, who led the band at the dedication of Grant's Tomb on 25 April 1897. Fanciulli was an accomplished musician, but he was blanketed by the shadow of Sousa. During a street parade in the capital on 1 June 1897, he made an unwise decision not to play a requested Sousa march. As a result he was charged with insubordination and was ordered by Lieutenant Herbert L. Draper to return to the barracks and place himself under "house arrest." The incident caused a fury in the Washington press, which referred to Fanciulli as the "Prisoner of 15th Street," and the news filtered into the White House.

President Grover Cleveland had an engagement the next day to deliver a major speech in Philadelphia. Calling the secretary of the Navy and the commandant of the Marine Corps together, the president prevailed upon them to release Fanciulli from custody so the band could accompany him to Philadelphia.

When Fanciulli and the band returned to Washington, a board of inquiry convened to investigate the allegations against him. The board found Fanciulli guilty of "failure to obey a lawful order, use of disrespectful language toward an officer, and conduct being prejudice to the conduct of good order and discipline." The recommended sentence was dishonorable discharge from the Marine Corps. The transcript of the proceedings of the board was forwarded to the Acting Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt. After much deliberation, Roosevelt decided that the sentence was too severe and ordered the findings of the board to be set aside. Fanciulli resumed his post, but on 27 October 1897, Marine Headquarters announced that Fanciulli would not be reenlisted.

The term Marine Band had long been used as a technical description for a type of mouth organ or harmonica. At the end of the nineteenth-century the Hohner Harmonica Company sought to capitalize on the growing prominence of "The President's Own" and released a new harmonica with a picture of the U.S. Marine Band on the front of the instrument's case. This product identity campaign ultimately proved to be very successful. To this day, Marine Band Harmonicas are thought to refer to the Marine Band in Washington, though Hohner and the band have no affiliation with one another.

One of the most brilliant social events to be held at the White House was the wedding of Alice Roosevelt, daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt, to Nicholas Longworth on 17 February 1906. More than a thousand guests were in attendance as Alice, on the arm of her illustrious father, processed to the alter to the strains of The Wedding March from Wagner's Lohengrin performed by the Marine Band under the direction of William H. Santelmann. Santelmann was to become the "Archibald Henderson" of the band with a tenure of 29 years as director-from 13 March 1898 to 1 May 1927. He was the first director in the band's history to become a commissioned officer, retiring in the grade of Captain.

Captain Taylor Branson, who followed Santelmann as director, pioneered weekly radio broadcasts of the band's concerts, and they became the longest sustained programs in that medium. On 21 August 1932, Branson conducted the band at the Canadian Exposition in Ottawa. This was the first time that the Marine Band performed outside the United States.

During World War II, on 20 May 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt hosted a special concert on the White House lawn for Great Britain's Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. In attendance were the Prime Minister of Canada, Lord Halifax, several American generals, and 25 British officers of similar rank. The band was under the director of Lieutenant Colonel William F. Santelmann (son of William H.) Despite a steady rain, Roosevelt and Churchill stayed for the entire performance and at its conclusion sang with the band The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

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